The United States of America has an extensive history of oppressing essentially everyone who is not a straight, white, land-owning, wealthy, cis-gender man and included within this list of oppressed is women. Throughout the ages, women have had to and continue to fight for many rights through social, economic, and political venues. One of these rights, and area of public policy, are reproductive rights. Reproductive rights are a broad area of public policy that encompasses sexual education, family planning, contraceptives, reproductive health services, and terminating a pregnancy.
During the 2016 presidential race, reproductive rights were the focus of many debates, press conferences, political speeches, and voters’ choices, especially with the first woman as a major political party official presidential candidate. Reproductive rights, spanning from what candidates supported to previous statements and actions candidates committed, had a direct impact on who won the presidential race. As previously stated, reproductive rights include sexual education, family planning, contraceptives, reproductive health services, and the right to terminate a pregnancy.
All of these are controversial in some aspect or another, all of these areas have plentiful room for improvement, but first it is imperative to understand how these are all conceptualized. To begin, sexual education is the process of instructor children on sexual life, whether in the home, public, or private school system. There are two broad techniques used to provide sex education, comprehensive sex education and abstinence based sex education (Mezey, 2011).
The abstinence-based avenue explains to children that it is morally wrong to have sex prior to a heterosexual marriage, which leads to many problems such as higher rates of unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and a lack of knowledge on all subjects related to sex and healthy relationships (2011). This is especially true amongst LGBTQIA+ and people with disabilities because they are left to find out sex and sexually related experiences through trial and error, and the Internet.
Comprehensive sex education on the other hand, is when students are presented with every possible contraceptive option, their benefits and risks, statistical safety from preventing pregnancy and STDs/STIs (2011). Students also learn about what a healthy relationship is and how to effectively communicate their wants, needs, and limits in a sexual relationship. Comprehensive sex education is essential for students to grow into functioning adults, and thus participating members of a democracy (2011).
Historically, sex education was not viewed as a necessary aspect for students until the 1960s and the demand for evidence-based education began in 1964. During this time period, Planned Parenthood established the Sexuality Information Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) to effectively education the younger population on sex and sexuality (2011). SIECUS founded the National Guidelines Task Force in 1990 who’s mission was to make sex education a promotion of sexual health and providing a positive view on sex, in comparison to the immoral view that abstinence-based sex education provided (2011).
Secondly, family planning is an all-encompassing term to include anything related to the regulation and organization of planning a family, whether that is when to have children, the steps necessary for an individual to take to conceive or adopt a child, and related topics (2011). Similarly, reproductive rights include the right to fair contraceptives that contributes to effective family planning (2011). This is supposed to include all types of contraceptives, despite one’s income level. Reproductive health services include a right to health procedures and surgeries relating to reproductive organs, again, despite one’s income level.
Lastly, reproductive rights include the right for one to terminate their pregnancies. This is viewed as the most controversial aspect of reproductive rights and what most people think of when they hear the phrase reproductive rights, despite the extensive other areas that have been addressed. The controversy, healthcare coverage, and political implications of abortions had quite the impact on the presidential election in various ways because abortions are something a large amount of voters make voting decisions on. Historically, the restrictions of women’s reproductive rights were not always prevalent.
In the early Eighteenth century, women had complete and total access to their bodies, family planning, reproductive planning, contraceptives (though primitive and unhelpful during the time period), and even complete access to abortions (Jaffe 1981). However, the country took a 180-degree turn away from these rights when there was a cultural shift in sexuality. Sex was only allowed in heterosexual marriages and solely for the purpose of procreation, anything outside of these two strict barriers were seen as immoral (1981).
The U. S Congress passed the Comstock Law in 1873 and it prohibited the spread of obscene literature through the United States Postal service, which included anything related to erotica, sex toys, contraceptives, and abortifacients (items that will cause an abortion to occur) (1981). People could not spread any information relating to birth control through the mail or even across state lines, and if people were caught doing so they were subject to incarceration (1981). This law was the legislative beginning to the ongoing battle for reproductive rights which women once owned, a right to our own bodies.
Since the Comstock Law, contraceptives have had an extensive roller coaster like history to get where we are today in the U. S. Margaret Sanger is credited for the birth of birth control in the United States as she coined the term in 1914, opened the first clinic in 1916, founded the American Birth Control League in 1921 which later evolved into today’s Planned Parenthood, and raised a significant amount of money for research on female controlled birth control (Mezey, 2011).
Due to this research, the Federal Drug Administration approved the first oral contraceptive in 1960. However, Sanger was so passionate about birth control for quite controversial reasons. She wanted to control the population size and members of the population, meaning she only wanted able-bodied white people to procreate children (2011). Five years after the FDA approved the first oral contraceptive; the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that a Connecticut law that prohibited any form of contraception was a violation to marital privacy in Griswold v.
Connecticut and was the first SCOTUS case that introduced a right to privacy which is not explicitly written anywhere in the Constitution (2011). In 1972, the Court extended the right to privacy and access to contraceptives from married couples to individuals in Eisenstaedt v. Baird (2011). These two cases are detrimental to the advancement of reproductive rights because they were the beginning steps of taking down the Comstock Law and related state leveled laws, along with the establishment of a right to privacy.
The Supreme Court’s establishment of right to privacy provided the precedent necessary for a landmark case relating to terminating a pregnancy. In 1973, SCOTUS ruled in Roe v. Wade that under the Due Process Clause under the Fourteenth Amendment, right to privacy included a woman’s right to have an abortion (Harden, 1997). However, the ruling also cemented the trimester test in which during the third trimester of a pregnancy, the state has a right to regulate the pregnancy as a protection of potential human life.
Roe is still the precedent case and abortion is still constitutional, yet there have been multiple barriers and hurdles put in place to limit women’s access to terminate their own pregnancies, especially if they are members of the working class or working poor (1997). First, the Hyde Amendment was passed in 1977 and stated that federal Medicaid funds cannot be put towards abortions unless the woman’s life is danger or in cases of rape and/or incest (1997). This is extremely problematic because the Hyde Amendment prevents the large amount of women who are on Medicaid, meaning they already have a low income, cannot afford to have an abortion.
When these women are not able to have an abortion, and other political, cultural, and economic systems are put in place that limit the potential child’s ability to thrive in the world, the United States is systematically oppressing women, specifically women of color. This is assuming the women decide to still have the child since they cannot afford a safe abortion. Other options would be adoption, which is a growing epidemic in our country, or forced to have an unsafe abortion and put their lives in danger. Moving forward, in 1992 the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v.
Casey added additional barriers to a woman’s access to a safe and secure abortion (Nelson, 2003). While upholding Roe v. Wade, SCOTUS eliminated the trimester test, but stated a woman has a right to an abortion until fetal viability, which is defined as the fetus can live outside of the womb even with artificial aid (2003). This case has allowed states across the country to place hundreds of limitations on women’s ability to get an abortion whether through the time they can receive one, the steps that a physician needs to take before they can perform an abortion, and the qualifications an abortion clinic needs to meet (2003).
Today, abortion continues to be a hot button debate that is split between people who identify as either “pro-choice” or “pro-life”. This split between two sides was one of the contributing factors to the 2016 presidential race. One would assume that women especially were faced with making voting decisions on who will protect their bodies the best within politics, and most viewed that to be Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton.
However, fifty-one percent of white women who lived in suburban and rural areas voted for Republican Party, and current President, candidate Donald Trump (Faber, 2017). This may be in part due to these voters not feeling that reproductive rights are the most important issue when they are voting, and also possibly because they have never found themselves in a place where their reproductive rights are being taken from them because they are middle-class or higher (2017).